How To Assess Candidate Competency

You can assess the effectiveness of any business process by conducting an end-to-end yield analysis. Just divide how much you have left by what you started with. Hiring, despite the claims that it’s number one, is one of the most ineffective processes in business today. Overall yield is less than 10%. Poorly written ads, a cumbersome online application process, inappropriate screening filters, incompetent interviewers, emotional biases, and unsophisticated recruiters are just a few of the big reasons for this low score. In this series of articles I’m addressing each of these issues and providing practical tips on what you can do now to improve your overall hiring effectiveness. At POWER Hiring we do a lot of work tying competency models together with performance management systems. From this, we developed the following very simple 1-5 scale to grade the effectiveness of a process or the competency of a person:

  1. Weak. Incompetent or ineffective.
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  3. Adequate. Meets basic needs, but requires extra support or supervision.
  4. Qualified. Meets all expectations without outside support or extra supervision.
  5. Well-qualified. Consistently exceeds expectations.
  6. Exceptional. Will always exceed expectations despite obstacles and challenges.

You can use this tool to rank your own systems, sub-systems, your people (overall and by specific task), and even yourself. One of our staffing director clients recently ranked her 10-person recruiting team as follows: one “1,” three “2s,” three “3s,” two “4s,” and one “5.” Of course, she spends most of her time managing the “1s” and “2s” and cleaning up their mistakes, wondering where all her time goes. As a general rule, fix or get rid of any “1s” immediately, and move the “2s” to “3s” if you can. Then you’ll have a system, team, or person that delivers what it’s intended to do without a lot of management intervention. Interviewing competency generally falls into the “1” or “2” scale at most companies. When I ask recruiters how effective their hiring manager clients are in assessing candidate competency, 75% of the rankings range from terrible to average. Hiring managers give recruiters similar rankings when I ask them the same question. My field observations indicate that both groups are right. This means that 75% of top candidates are inadvertently being screened out by incompetent recruiters, and 75% of these top candidates who get through are then being improperly excluded by hiring managers. So if you start with a 100 top candidates, only 25 will ever get to see a hiring manager, and then only 6 of these will be recognized as qualified. This is a 6% end-to-end yield. I’d rank this step of the hiring process at best a “1,” more likely a big zero. That’s why solving the interviewing competency problem is critical. No matter what else you do to improve your hiring or sourcing systems, this problem compromises everything. Now that I’ve defined the problem, here’s the quick solution (I’ll expand upon this in the next article in the series). First, don’t use traditional job descriptions to filter out or assess candidates. This is the core reason why hiring is inefficient. Don’t fall into the trap of asking the hiring manager to describe what the candidate needs to have to be qualified. Instead, ask what the candidate needs to do to obtain at least a “3” ranking on the competency scale described above. The key to better interviewing accuracy is to clarify the expectations up front. Obtain at least three of these deliverables or performance objectives (five to eight is best). For a salesperson, one of these might be “maximize order size,” or “add five new customers per month.” See my article on preparing performance profiles for more details on this. Clarifying the expectations this way will help both the recruiter and hiring manager to assess the candidate. During the interview, ask the candidate to describe something he or she has accomplished that best compares to one of the required performance objectives. Then conduct detailed fact-finding for 8 to 15 minutes on only this accomplishment. Then do the same thing for the remaining accomplishments. Your objective here is to clearly understand for each accomplishment the actual results achieved, the process used to achieve the results, and the environment in which the accomplishment took place. You’ll then compare the candidate’s accomplishments to each of the specific deliverables defined earlier. This simple technique will allow you to quickly improve interviewing accuracy. See my article on the single best interviewing question for more details on how to use this fact-finding methodology. After the interview, use the 1-5 scale to rank the candidate’s performance against each of the required performance objectives. A “3” ranking means the candidate has demonstrated enough self-motivation and technical competency to achieve similar results in a similar environment without much extra management support. (Make sure you ask about how the person was managed during the questioning.) A “4” or “5” ranking means the person consistently exceeded expectations, demonstrating technical competency, potential, leadership, personal motivation and strong team skills. A “2” ranking indicates that even if the person has the basic skills to achieve the objective, personal motivation is lacking, requiring added supervision. Any “1s” should be instantly excluded. The process I’m recommending improves interviewing accuracy by first establishing a common measurement system?? the performance profile. By clarifying the expectations and deliverables upfront, interviewers are less likely to use emotions, biases, intuition, and first impressions to assess the candidate. The fact-finding questioning approach is a simple means to understand if a candidate can really do the work, not just talk about it. This minimizes another problem: the tendency to assess interviewing skills rather than job competency. The 1-5 scale ties it all together by linking the real job with the candidate’s real performance. Implementing these three steps will move the interviewing and assessment portion of your hiring process to at least a “3.” Then you can work on sourcing, systems implementation, diversity hiring, and the host of other hiring issues you’re now facing. But if you ignore improving this assessment piece, everything else you’re doing will be largely wasted effort.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).